Look Both Ways: A Double Journey Along My Grandmother’s Far-Flung Path by Katharine Coles

Walter Link and Miriam Wollaeger, a young geologist couple in 1920s Wisconsin, set out to find oil to supply the surging U.S. demand. This exciting work will allow them to build their lives in South and Central America, Indonesia, and Cuba. But from the first posting in Columbia, they quickly discover that no women are working in the field in these places. While Walter faces the hardships and thrills of exploration in the jungles and mountains, and eventually becomes chief geologist for Standard Oil, Miriam is left behind in the colonial capitals during Walter’s often lengthy times away. She defines herself through the limited means left to a woman within their small societies: playing bridge or polo by day and dancing into the wee hours with early KLM pilots, diplomats, and the footloose sons of moneyed Americans and the European aristocracies. She also raises three children, has intimate involvements, learns the local languages, and takes up teaching. But she is not satisfied. And finally she does something about it.

Following in her grandparents’ footsteps, author Katharine Coles looks backward and forward, through documents and imagination. She looks at their journeys and hers, and mingling their words with her own, examines the delicate balances that must exist in a successful marriage and a feminist life.

Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage by Grace Schulman

Grace Schulman is an award-winning poet and the author of seven collections of poems. She has had long posts as Poetry Editor of the Nation magazine, Director of the Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y, and Distinguished Professor at CUNY’s Baruch College, where she still teaches. But her love for her scientist husband and her care for him through his long illness proved to be among her greatest inspirations. It called forth her deepest grief at his loss.

How did Schulman maintain the independence, solitude, and freedom she required within the bounds of marriage? And what made her marriage endure through a decade of living apart? “In my experience, the phrase ‘happy marriage’ is a term of opposites, like ‘friendly fire’ or ‘famous poet.’ My marriage has been a feast of contradiction . . . ” Strange Paradise looks at this, Schulman’s remarkable career, her friendships with great writers, her work as an historic impresario at the Y, her religious and philosophical leanings, and her grand love affair with New York―all in her magical prose.

It’s My Party: A Memoir by Jeannette Watson

Born into a celebrity family, Jeannette Watson’s larger-than-life family hid a number of secrets. Behind a facade of order and glamour, Tom Watson often experienced dark moods; his depression was something he passed on to his daughter. Jeannette felt she could never measure up to her mother-a legendary beauty-and kept her nose buried in books.

Through her years as a debutante, then young wife and mother, Watson kept her feelings under wraps until she had a mental breakdown. As part of her fight to heal herself, she left her husband, taking their son and moving to New York City to experience its heady 1970s freedoms. She opened the legendary Upper East Side bookstore Books & Co., which became a gathering place for literati. Her personal life soared once more when she met her second husband, Alex Sanger, grandson of Planned Parenthood’s founder, with whom she had two more sons. After a long and fulfilling run, the bookstore closed and Watson found her way down a new path to become a spiritual healer.

It’s My Party is a portrait of another era, a guide to dealing with depression, and one woman’s deep effort to understand herself.

A Piece of Me: My Childhood in Wartime Bavaria by Beatrix Ost

As a young girl growing up in the ’40s on a vast estate near Munich, Trixi Ost lives a life that is charmed by talent and privilege yet scarred by turbulent times. She enjoys the attentions of a beloved grandfather who sings her songs and holds forth in Latin, the pig and the deer she keeps as pets, and a wide freedom to roam. But everyday routine is swiftly upended as the estate becomes temporary home to an unlikely collection of people displaced by the war: distant relatives, forced laborers, Prussian royals, Polish peasants, generals, and even a few spies. One bright afternoon, a band of Easterners arrive: “The farm community gathered…staring rigidly at the approaching strangers in their desiccated floral colors, the skin of their faces gaunt and gray like dusty paper…. Who were they? Where were they coming from on this June day? Dachau, breathed the young man who led them, almost inaudibly.”

More Than Everything: My Voyage with the Gods of Love by Beatrix Ost

Beatrix Ost’s memoir of her artistic awakening and early marriage opens on the heels of Germany’s recovery from the self-imposed disasters of World War II. She is part of the new generation that dances disobediently in the bombed-out villas and underground jazz caverns of Munich. Beatrix rides the dynamic decade up through the world of art, fashion, and cinema into the revolution of politics and consciousness.